Destin, Florida is one of my family’s favorite places to vacation each year. Located in Florida’s panhandle – Destin is known for their white sand beaches and gorgeous emerald-hued waters. The beaches are hands down some of the best in the United States.
There is plenty to do there – or if you prefer to just relax on the beach during your visit, you won’t get bored with that either!
How to Get There
The Destin-Fort Walton Beach Airport (VPS) is the closest airport to Destin.
I am all about the direct flights! And there is a direct flight on Allegiant Airlines from Rockford, IL (only about 75 minutes south of Madison). These flights run seasonally and are often a low cost option.
Another direct flight (and affordable) option is to fly out of Chicago O’Hare International Airport.
Or if you prefer to fly directly from Madison, WI (Dane County International Airport), which is always a convenient option, you can get there with just one stop on both Delta Airlines and American Airlines. We’ve done this before as well and the flights were reasonably priced and didn’t take too long to get there.
Where to Stay
On our most recent visit, we stayed at the Jade East Towers. It had everything we needed – in one convenient location.
Jade East is an upscale beach condo resort located on one of Destin’s best beachfront locations. With prime amenities, it was perfect for my family of five.
They have spacious two and three bedroom rentals with private balconies that overlook the Gulf of Mexico. They also have a gulf-front pool and lounging area, hot tub, tennis courts, basketball, a fitness center, a grilling area – and appliances in each unit (including a washer and dryer).
Check in (and check out) were both super convenient. We had everything we needed prior to arrival – so when we got there we were able to head straight to our condo and use a code to get in.
Complimentary beach service (beach chairs and an umbrella) is included for guests of Jade East during season — this was a huge benefit and super convenient as the chairs and umbrella were set up for us each day. Most days we headed straight to the beach. And spent most of our time in the ocean or collecting seashells!
Guests who stay at Jade East also get a complimentary shuttle service (another huge benefit!) to and from the airport, as well as some extra perks and freebies and discounts with Xplorie activities.
This fall they are celebrating MOMS with their MOMosa Vacation Package
This package combines their lower fall rates with a bottle of sparkling wine, three Ocean Spray mixers, govino flutes, and a soft-side cooler.
Whether escaping solo, with girlfriends, or with a special family member (mother, daughter, aunt, or cousin) – you can’t beat Destin the fall!
Where to Eat
Al’s Beach Club and Rockin’ Tacos | 1450 Miracle Strip Pkwy SE, Fort Walton Beach, FL
Al’s Beach Club is a beachfront restaurant with weekly firework shows, DJs & a menu of burgers, craft beer & milkshakes. They are known for their famous key lime pie shake – made famous by the Travel Channel. When we were there, it was ‘Pirate Night’ – so not only is the food family-friendly, but the entertainment is included!
Rockin’ Tacos serves up Mexican classics & tequila cocktails offered in a funky seaside bar & grill with outdoor seating. With Baja fish tacos, fried avocados, alligator tacos and Mexican burgers — they combine the best of the border and the shore! The service was top notch and the ambiance could not be beat. After dinner, we walked to the boardwalk to check out the ocean sunset and for some fireworks.
What to Do
Seablaster Dolphin Sunset Cruise | This was one of my very favorite experiences! The Seablaster Dolphin Sunset Cruise is suitable for kids of all ages. It boards from Harborwalk Village at the foot of the Destin Bridge. In addition to being nearly guaranteed to see dolphins, it includes vibrant music and free water, soda, beer and wine. There’s something so energizing about being on a boat, surrounded by gorgeous scenery – and this was no exception. I highly recommend booking a Seablaster. They offer a variety of experiences and adventures – including snorkeling and dolphin cruise combination trips, afternoon beach dolphin cruises, and relaxing sunset dolphin cruises, and Destin Harbor firework cruises.
Fudpucker’/Gator Beach| Gator Beach is a one of a kind alligator park located at Fudpuckers in Destin. They are one of the top-rated attractions in the area because of the unique experiences they offer that you won’t find anywhere else. It’s free to get into Gator Beach, and they have opportunities to purchase food to feed the alligators (my kids loved this!), a chance to hold an alligator (where you can purchase a photo of yourself holding it), a discovery zone and ‘gator shows’.
Baytowne Wharf | Baytowne Wharf is always one of our must stops when in Destin. Located along the shores of the Choctawhatchee Bay in Northwest Florida, The Village of Baytowne Wharf features an array of boutiques, eateries, galleries and nightlife — not to mention a jam-packed schedule of outdoor festivals and special events for the entire family. My kids loved having their first New Orleans style snoball at Tony Larue’s New Orleans Snoballs; I have memories of visiting the piano bar at Rum Runners back in the day (so fun!); and the kids played at Adventure Land Playground, in the Baytowne Adventure Zone and in the Blast Arcade & Laser Maze. I love the southern vibe and charm of Baytowne Wharf.
Fishing | My husband and son love to fish! They were able to rent gear to fish in the gulf (right on the beach outside our condo). They fished at sunrise or sunset a couple of the days. I am NOT keen on fishing – but they loved it and caught a few fish (that they threw back).
Destin Harbor Boardwalk is a bustling destination for bars, restaurants, souvenir shops, boating & tourist attractions.
Big Kahuna’s Water & Adventure Park is primarily a water park, with over forty water attractions. The park also features several thrill ride attractions and a miniature golf course. I dare you to drive by without your kids yelling that they want to go there!
Destin History & Fishing Museum contains exhibits depicting the history of the town and the fishing industry in relation to it.
The Track – Destin is an amusement park with go-karts, mini-golf, bumper cars & boats, kids’ rides & arcade.
There is truly no shortage of things to do with families in Destin, FL… and honestly — you could easily just relax on the beach the whole time and would NOT be disappointed! Destin is a true slice of paradise. While we chose to fly — many families also make the drive from WI to FL… and Nashville is perfectly sandwiched in the middle which makes for the perfect pitstop!